New Zealand Web Accessibility & Closed Captioning: Laws, Standards, & Trends

July 21, 2015 BY EMILY GRIFFIN
Updated: January 4, 2018

Need to know Kiwi rules for closed captioning?

Curious how WCAG affects web content in New Zealand?

Wondering which disability laws require captions for Kiwi videos?

Read on for a brief summary of closed captioning rules, recommendations, and trends in New Zealand, or download our white paper on web accessibility and captioning in New Zealand & Australia.


While New Zealand closed captioning regulations have some catching up to do to match other English-speaking nations, both government and independent groups are committed to video accessibility. Kiwi accessibility advocates are mounting pressure on broadcasters for more comprehensive captioning of TV, movies, and web video.

New Zealand Government Web Accessibility Standard

As of July 1, 2013, the federal government of New Zealand adheres to both an official Web Accessibility Standard and a Web Usability Standard, which mostly follow WCAG 2.0 AA. These standards set inclusive web design requirements for all Public Service departments and Non-Public Service departments in the State Services. The State Services Commission website lists all applicable departments.

The Web Accessibility Standard offers a 4-phased approach, with all New Zealand government websites complying by July 1, 2017.

PhasesPublic Gov’t WebsitesInternal Gov’t Websites
Phase 1: July 2013- June 2014Every home page

Every contact us page

High-priority page

Phase 2: July 2014- June 2015All content listed above, plus:

Top 25% most visited web pages

Every webpage created since July 1, 2014

Every web page created since July 1 2014
Phase 3: July 2015- June 2016All content listed above, plus:

50% of most visited web pages

Every web page created since July 1 2014
Phase 4: July 2016- June 2017All web pagesEvery web page created since July 1 2014


WCAG Standards for Web Video and Captioning

Web video must be WCAG 2.0 A compliant, requiring closed captions for prerecorded content with a grace period of 10 business days. Live captioning is required for “high stakes information or services,” such as public safety announcements or election news.

New Zealand Broadcast Media Captioning Rules

Approximately 31% of Free to Air New Zealand TV is captioned. A 2015 press release from the CWG observed:

While closed captioning for broadcast TV is not mandated by any New Zealand regulatory body, the Captioning Working Group argues for captioning as a civil right for deaf citizens.

NZ On Air

Governed by appointees of the Minister of Broadcasting, NZ On Air is a federal funding agency that invests in local TV, radio, and digital broadcasting. In their 2013 annual report, they describe their video accessibility efforts:
NZ On Air

Alongside our content activities we fully fund Access Services to provide captioning and audio description services for hearing or vision-impaired TVNZ and TV3 audiences. Demand for these services is also increasing.

NZ On Air formed Able, an official closed caption and audio description provider for New Zealand programming. Able provides partial closed captioning to programs on TV ONE, TV2, TV3, TV3 plus 1, FOUR, TV ONE plus 1, TVNZ Heartland and some Sky channels, but there is much more work to be done to make all Kiwi broadcasting accessible.

Human Rights Act Amendment (2001)

New Zealand’s comprehensive antidiscrimination law, the Human Rights Act of 1993, was amended in 2001 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of a disability. However, accommodations for deaf or hard of hearing people are not addressed specifically. This doesn’t sit well with disability advocates in New Zealand. They look to a different authority for guidance: the United Nations.

UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)

In 2006, the UN issued a treatise called “The Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities.” Article 9 recognizes the rights of disabled people to access information and services on the web, TV, or any other form of communication.UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)

States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure to persons with disabilities access, on an equal basis with others, to…. Information, communications and other services, including electronic services and emergency services.
States Parties shall also take appropriate measures to:…Promote access for persons with disabilities to new information and communications technologies and systems, including the Internet;

The UN Convention was ratified by New Zealand. What does that mean for the country’s disability law?

“By ratifying a convention,” the UN explains on its website, “and after the treaty comes into force, a country accepts its legal obligations under the treaty and will adopt implementing legislation.”

Thus, New Zealand observes the UN’s disability rights standards for making web content accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing.

New Zealand Disability Strategy

Published by the Office for Disability Issues, the New Zealand Disability Strategy is a high-level manifesto on the values of inclusion for disabled Kiwis. While it cites objectives for equal access to education, communication, and entertainment, it makes no direct references to video accessibility or transcription. This document is aspirational and not legally binding.

Captioning Working Group (CWG)

Captioning Working Group tweet: The Captioning Working Group (CWG) was founded in 2011 with a mission to make all TV and movies accessible to deaf and hard of hearing people in New Zealand. The group cites the UN’s CRPD as an impetus to reach higher closed captioning standards for New Zealand TV.

The CWG comprises members of Deaf Aotearoa New Zealand, the National Foundation for the Deaf, and the Hearing Association New Zealand, all advocating for legislation that would require broadcasters to caption free, subscription, and VOD television.

The group started a social media campaign to raise awareness for captioning as an accessibility issue. The hashtag and twitter handle ‘CaptionitNZ’ promotes captioning legislation and video accessibility efforts.

Future of Captioning in New Zealand

In an open letter to the New Zealand Minister of Broadcasting, the Chairperson of the Captioning Working Group, Louise Carroll, wrote:

Research shows that until legislation is enacted, Broadcasters will not introduce a reasonable rate of captioning. We ask again if you will please introduce in the Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications Act the mandatory requirement to apply captioning.

Until caption laws are updated, NZ On Air is doing all it can to promote voluntary captioning. It will increase Able’s 2015-2016 funding budget by $400,000 NZD, pushing captioning subsidies up to $2.8 million for the year. The funding bump comes from renewed efforts by NZ On Air to make video accessibility a priority.

In late 2015, the Minister of Broadcasting announced plans for Sky and Able to start captioning Prime TV programming in 2016. This change comes after mounting pressure from the Captioning Working Group’s advocacy, which include a petition and a viral video highlighting the inaccessibility of uncaptioned sports broadcasts.

Read the free report: 2017 State of Captioning.

The closed caption CC icon shown in the middle of a TV.